Sunday, December 24, 2006

Wassailing - Caroling for Beer

Do you like Christmas Caroling? I will admit I do like it when carolers come by my house and sing. However, I am not big about going house to house and caroling myself. In part, this is because I am a lousy singer.

However, I may well have been a caroler in medieval times. Back then, carolers went house to house singing for beer. What a merry origin to this holiday tradition!

An AP story titled Take Cheer: Christmas has Been Out of Control for Centuries by Matt Crenson has details. Crenson wrote, "In the northern Europe of the late middle ages, gangs of young men would engage in 'wassailing,' a cross between Christmas caroling and home invasion. The gangs would visit wealthy homes, often in disguise, and sing songs that threatened violence if they were not invited in for food and drink. In agrarian societies, practices like wassailing served as a critical safety valve, giving people at the bottom of the social ladder a release that would keep them in line during the rest of the year."

Evidently, after the fall harvest, the average common workers had a lot of free time on their hands. And, just about Christmas time, lots of beer was fermented and ready to drink. Letting the masses get drunk was good policy and was a widespread tradition.

Of course, in modern times, drinking and Christmas go together as well. Wine, beer, and rum in eggnog are common. However, most people do not threaten their neighbors to get free drinks. It is always fun to learn about the origins of holiday traditions. It is nice to hear how caroling originated as well.

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